Palliative Care and Cancer

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a specialized type of care for people living with a serious illness, such as cancer. 

The goals of palliative care are to improve a person’s quality of life, manage their illness symptoms, and help them understand their choices for medical treatment. 

When is palliative care appropriate?

A palliative approach to care can be useful at any stage of illness; however, it is often initiated when a cure is no longer possible. Palliative care is not the same as end-of-life care. Some individuals may benefit from palliative care while living with cancer as a chronic disease.

It would be appropriate to speak to your primary care provider or oncologist about palliative care if: 

  • the treatment goal is to manage your cancer, not cure it;
  • you are experiencing cancer symptoms that are interfering with your quality of life or your ability to complete daily tasks; 
  • you would benefit from spiritual or emotional support;
  • you would like to create a care plan aligned with your goals and values; or 
  • your family would benefit from support or respite while caring for you

If a person accepts palliative care, does it mean they won't get cancer treatment?

No. Palliative care can be provided in addition to cancer treatment.

Where do people receive palliative care?

Palliative care is an approach to care. The setting is determined by individual need. Palliative care is provided in private homes, clinics, nursing homes and hospitals.

End-of-life palliative care can be provided in private homes, nursing homes, hospitals or at the Provincial Palliative Care Centre, depending on the wishes and needs of the individual and family.

Who provides palliative care?

Palliative care is most successful when there is a team approach. 

Doctors, nurses, home support workers, social workers, spiritual care workers, physiotherapists, paramedics and pharmacists can all provide a palliative approach to care. The team is determined by the needs of the individual. 

Although all health care providers can provide a palliative approach to care, palliative physicians are specially trained in managing the symptoms of serious illness and alleviating suffering.

How do I request palliative care?

Have a conversation with your primary care provider or oncologist if you feel you would benefit from palliative care services.

Alternatively, you can request palliative care services through a provincial home care office near your community.

Are there support groups or programs for palliative patients?

The Provincial Palliative Support Program is an outpatient program designed to help people living with a life-limiting illness. The program offers support and connection in a small group setting. Well-being activities and participant and caregiver education sessions are led by a social worker and occupational therapist. For more information call the program coordinator at 902-368-4781.

Those interested in participating in a weekly cancer support group in Charlottetown can call the cancer patient navigator at 902-894-2552 or email

What supports are available for end-of-life care? 

Those with incurable cancer who experience disease progression will require additional supports. A palliative care team can support this transition by providing additional end-of-life care. 

Hospice PEI is a non-profit organization offering volunteer-led hospice support for those approaching the end of life. Examples of hospice support include education, advocacy, respite care for caregivers, practical resources, bedside support services and grief support.

Those who would like information about the Medical Assistance in Dying program (MAiD) can speak to their primary health care provider to learn more.


Published date: 
February 27, 2023
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